School cafeterias across the US are facing a shortage of a lunchtime staple: milk cartons. A main supplier of half-pint paperboard containers, Pactiv Evergreen, has been unable to meet the higher than expected demand from schools that have reopened amid the pandemic.
The company, which produces about 60% of the US school milk cartons, said it was working to increase its production and supply, but warned that the shortage could last until early 2024.
The shortage has forced school officials to find alternative ways to serve milk to students, such as using different types, sizes, or containers of milk. Some schools have switched to plastic bottles, pouches, or cups, while others have opted for larger cartons that can be shared among students.
However, some school nutrition directors said they were concerned about the cost, availability, and environmental impact of the alternative milk options. They also said they were worried about the potential impact on student nutrition and participation in the school meal program.
Chavez stated that his district had placed an order for approximately 1.5 million milk cartons for the ongoing academic year. However, they have only received around 10% of the requested quantity. As a result, Chavez had to procure milk in plastic bottles from alternative suppliers, which incurred higher costs and occupied more space in the refrigerators.
“We’re not in a panic mode right now, but we are concerned,” Donna Martin, director of school nutrition for Burke county schools in Georgia, said. Martin said she had to order milk in pouches, which were more prone to leaking and spilling.
The issue lies not in the scarcity of milk itself, but in the cardboard cartons employed for its packaging and distribution, as per dairy industry suppliers and state officials.
Pactiv Evergreen, based in Lake Forest, Illinois, and known as “the top manufacturer of fresh food and beverage packaging in North America,” admitted in a statement on Friday that it is still grappling with much higher demand than expected for its milk cartons.
School officials in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington state are preparing for the shortage, as acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which stated that the supply chain problem is impacting “multiple states.”
– Milk carton shortage hits school lunchrooms in New York, California and other states, USDA says, Associated Press, November 3, 2023
– US school milk supply at risk due to carton shortage, Fox News, November 6, 2023
– US schools grapple with shortage of a lunchtime staple: milk cartons, The Guardian, November 4, 2023
– School Lunchrooms: Milk carton shortage hits school lunchrooms in New York, California and other states, USDA says, Times of India, November 5, 2023